tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS January 25, 2014 1:30am-2:01am PST
gwen: two east coast governors under political and legal siege. plus, how to streamline american elections and broker a syrian peace. tonight on "washington week." >> i come before you this evening as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused in his public service has been wrongfully attacked. >> mistakes were clearly made and as a result we let down the people we're entrusted to serve. gwen: they were both on the vice presidental short list. 2016 was on their horizons. but virginia's bob mcdonnell and new jersey's chris christie are now each on separate slippery slopes. will they survive? >> i think all of us share the elief that regardless of party
affiliation, that our democracy demands that our citizens can participate in a smooth and effective way. gwen: a new bipartisan commission proposes a way to repair american elections. >> we looked for the areas where we could agree without abandonning our principles as opposed to the areas where we knew we would end up disagreeing. gwen: but at a conference in switzerland, the quest for peace in syria was all about disagreement. >> assad will never have or be able to learn about legitimacy to bring that country back together. translator: no one, mr. kerry, nobody in the world has the right to legitimize a president or a constitution or a law or anything in syria except the syrian people themselves. gwen: the challenge so far, getting the parties to talk face to face. covering the week -- dan balz of "the washington post," pete williams of nbc news, alexis
simendinger of realclearpolitics, and indira akshmanan of bloomberg news. >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capitol, this is "washington week." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question. how old is the old 0est person you have known? we gave people awe sticker and had them show us. we learned a lot of us had known someone who lived well into their 90's and that's a great thing. even though we're living longer, one thing that hasn't changed, the official retirement age. the question is, how do you makw sure you have the money you need to enjoy all of these years?
>> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by boeing. additional funding is is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again live from washington, moderator depa went eiffel. gwen: good evening. we love political rising stars. we search them out, we anoint them, we celebrate them and then sometimes we step back and watch them fall. of on they seem to trip themselves. in new jersey by hiring loyal staffers who apparently thought it was ok to punish political enemies by punishing constituents and in virginia by accepting lavish amounts of cash and gifts from a political donor and insisting what you did was legal. most remarkable in all of this, new jersey's chris christie and virginia's bob mcdonnell were at
the political peak what seems like a moment ago. let's start by running through the particulars of each case, starting in virginia, pete. >> i guess the difference between chris christie and bob mcdonnell is chris christie said he didn't do it. bob mcdonnell said he did but it's not illegal. he said much of what the government said he did doesn't violate the law taking gifts and cash from a virginia businessman who wanted to promote his line of dietary supplements. but it's a jaw-dropping list in the federal indictment. over 135,000 in cash and gifts, free use of golf outings at private country clubs, buying designer dresses for the first lady of virginia, expensive watches, catering -- paying catering for their daughter's wedding. he said this wasn't illegal because this was a friend, these were personal favors. by the way, he said this was the same kind of promotion the governor would do for any business in virginia. what it hinges on is is were these official acts? the federal government said yes, they were. he facilitated meetings with
state officials, he organized functions at the governor's mansion, he spoke at meetings for the business this guy was trying to promote and that's enough, the government says, to basically end up being corruption. gwen: dan, in new jersey it's more old-fashioned political muscling that was going on. there's not -- no talk so far about money changing hands or anything like that. >>o, it really there are two cases or two examples in some form or another hardball politics, political retribution or something worse. i think that's what we're waiting to find out in terms of these investigations. this started out initially as scandal over closing down lanes on the george washington bridge. seemingly ordered by the governor's staff. and he immediately acted, fired the people who seemed to be involved in that or were involved in that. what's happened in the last week is is this has expanded on a new
front. mayor of hoboken don zimmer came forward a week ago on msnbc and is said the lieutenant governor had said to her that hurricane relief funds for hurricane sandy were contingent on her fast-tracking a commercial development project in her city. and lieutenant governor has denied this but this is another investigation. gwen: here we have a quid pro quo question. >> yes. >> what everybody is talking about is what happened to governor christie's standings, especially in his power, and hopes to continue to rise on the national stage? what do we know so far about the reaction from the public? >> there's no question he's taken a hit politically from the public. the pugh research center had a poll out. polled on him a year ago and this time. his favorable ratings were essentially the same. his negative ratings had doubled. and interestingly i thought was that about 60% of the people who were interviewed said they do not believe christie, who has asserted steadfastly he knew
nothing about any of this at the time and people say they don't believe that. the other thing we have seen is is in these hypothetical matchups at this point, pitting christie against hillary clinton in a 2016 race, he's taken a tumble there. he's doing less well on those fronts. gwen: up with of the things i find interesting about this is is both cases, the best possible take on what happened to these two is that other people mis -- not betrayed so much but other people did things which flashback on them. it's his wife, allegedly. >> according to the government, she's the one shortly after the inaugural who goes to the businessman and said hey, can you buy me a designer dress? governor's staff said you can't do that. she said i'll take a rain check and she made good on that. they basically -- the question is is, what -- gwen: involved a trip to new york city. >> a shopping trip to all of the big high-end stores in new york and spends something like
$15,000 on clothes, which by the way she then sends back and said i realize this was just a loan. two years later after the government starts to investigate. but if you read the indictment, she's the one who is asks for a $50,000 loan because they're behind in credit card bills. according to the government, she asked to pay $15,000 for catering. said hey, that's a nice watch. why don't you get a rolex watch like that for my husband? the indictment also said he talked to the businessman, governor did for loans for himself and his business. >> doesn't the incitement also accuse them of other crimes? what about lying to the government or not cooperating with the investigation? >> yes. the centerpiece of the government's case against mcdonnells is this corruption charge. of course, she's not a public official. but they say there's a conspiracy between the two of them. how they sort of wrap her into the conspiracy charge. but they also say the -- they try to hide a lot of the assets. they bought stock in this
virginia businessman's company and then they sold it so it wouldn't show up on the books. he didn't -- governor didn't report all of these gifts and use of the businessman's private house and golf outings and so forth. and they also say that she misled investigators about how -- whether this in fact was an old friendship that the indictment says the governor never met this businessman until 2009 when the governor was running for election and they called him up and is said hey, can we use your plane in the campaign? but she told the f.b.i. oh, they have known each other 30 years. gwen: i have two political questions about these two guys. one in the case of chris christie, you told us what the polls show but i wonder if there's any influcks point politically some position that he has, anything that will be the next shoe to fall? and the other thing in the case of mcdonnell, he's no longer governor. they waited a few days after he left office formally to bring this indictment. was he really on a fast track to anything to 2016? what were his political possibilities? >> that's a hard question to answer. i would say he was not on a
forecast track to 2016. now, had none of this occurred, he would is have been talked about. but i think there were others, chris christie being among them and other governors and senators who probably had gone a little farther than he had in being speculated about for 2016 possibilities. christie's situation is pretty clear. he left himself in his press conference a couple weeks ago, he left himself no wiggle room about what he knew or what he didn't know. if there's anything that comes out in any of this that suggests that's not the case, he will take a terrible hit. and his national bigses would probably be over. every republican i talked to over the last few weeks about this agrees with that. on the other hand, he's chairman of the republican governors' association right now. most -- people are standing by him. i talked to somebody today who said donors, who give money to the republican governors association, like christie, they think he is is a strong
executive. they think he has handled this as well as you can handle it. they think there's no reason that he can't continue to raise money for the r.g.a. but i think in the back of everybody's mind is, i want to get too far out in kind of saying everything is fine because there are two investigations under way that we're going to learn more things than we know now. gwen: want to talk about these investigations. pete, why are the federal investigations? this is simplistic but why are these just state investigations into minor league malfeasance? >> in the case of chris christie, there is a state legislature investigation but there's also potential federal cases, misuse of federal funds one of the allegations is is they misused the hurricane sandy funds. so there's a federal hook, although i must say, when this case first broke you got the very clear impression the federal government wasn't exactly charging to get into it. i think things have changed since the mayor came forward and they seem to be a little more into it now. and the mcdonnells' case,
virginia really has extremely week laws against accepting gifts. the question here is, this really troubling question of, it's a federal law to deprive your employer, in this case the government, of your honest services. that's the federal government. but it's not going to be easy to show because they have to show that in exchange for all of this, the governor performed official acts. now, the governor is saying, hosting a thing at the governor's mansion showing up and making speeches, those are not official acts. this is not a slam dunk for the government. >> i'm wondering, dan, about the next shoe that will drop with chris christie. because i was reading in "the new yorker," a column saying his political career is is basically in a shambles and i'm wondering to what extent voters in new jersey looked at him giving that press conference where he said mistakes are made and how much could they really believe that? gwen: in the interim it should
be said it was a state of the state speech in the inaugural where he looked pretty gubernatorial. >> the question is why wasn't he investigating this himself back in december when the allegations first came out? why did it take subpoenas to bring that information forward before he fired his aides? >> there's no good answer to the question as to why he was dismissive about the bridge scandal when it was percolating as he was. and perhaps we will learn more about that. no one knows what the next shoe is that might drop. there are 20 subpoenas that have gone out from the state assembly committee. they are now forming a joint committee with the senate. w there are subpoenas that have been issued by the u.s. attorney's office for all the documents that are relevant from the state republican party committee and from christie's re-election committee. we can assume that if they are doing that, they're also probably issuing individual subpoenas. there's a lot more coming.
gwen: shoes dropping for mcdonnell? >> i think the government has an exhaustive detail laid out the case against him and now it becomes a legal issue. this is not going to be a fact thing where we learn new things that he did. this is really going to be a fight about whether what he did is is illegal. gwen: ok. we have no choice but to watch because it's like a train wreck. we cannot look away. about this time last year, president obama delivered a state of the union speech that promised, among other things, to find a way to make voting easier. no more long lines, streamlined registration, improved accuracy. what could be hard about that? a lot. the bipartisan presidential commission on election administration found out just how much. what do they suggest? >> one of the things that came out right away is we have imperfect elections in the united states and they were pretty much predicting that's bog to continue although there are a lot of recommendations in this report that are an effort to address the disparities coming up, not just disparities
in states but counties and jurisdictions they mention that there are 8,000 jurisdictions that have different rules and controls. so one of the first things they said was based on how they were pulled together by the president was -- voters should not stand in line to vote more than 30 minutes. and that should be the national norm. that should be the goal of the jurisdiction shoots for. so they work together in a bipartisan way to pull together expertise and in this report it seems like they're very common sense things but they're trying to embrace things happening at all of these jurisdictional levels to say these are best practices. 30 minutes, shaupt stand in line longerment online registration to vote would smooth things over and jurisdictions should really adopt that and they're offer 0ing free tools, you know, online tools for them to embrace. early and absentee voting, great and they said inevitable. more than a third of the voters in 2012 who participated voteda early.
they're suggesting all of these practical things and one other thing i wanted to mention, they're saying we're heading for crisis with the machines, voting machines. they want the states and jurisdictions to embrace this idea that we have antiquated machines, very poor standards that not been updated since 2005 and all of these states are heading for problems that make voting harder. gwen: every single thing you mentioned, almost every single thing has been the subject of very partisan disagreement, shall we say, especially since 2000. what's interesting is the two people involved, co-chairman of the commission, ben ginsburg, republican, bop bauer, democrat, bob worked for obama but also worked on the gore side of the 2000 recount. ginsburg worked for romney but also worked on the bush side of the 2003 count and yet does it carry more heft the two of them were able to sit down at the table together? >> marriage made in heaven and president decided there was some utility in having these two foes, and they very quickly said
as they produced themselves, called themselves hack and made jokes and said outside of this commission, we are nem is sis. we are enemies to one another in our political dispositions, outlooks, et cetera. but they wanted to -- both of them are very interested for their various reasons and experiences in improving the election experience and the experience for voters. they kept indicating what brought them together is to serve the voters. and there's no partisan disagreement about that. there were many things that were not in this report. for instance, they didn't want to touch electronic voting, online voting or voter i.d., subject of massive and interesting partisan debate, including on capitol hill. they tried to forge alliance on what they could work together on. >> states run election, not the federal government. what reason is there to think this report will have any more effect than the film you saw in gym class on good hygiene? >> pete, i'm so glad you asked it that way. but it turns out that what they
were trying to promote after doing four field hearings and going around the country and talking to experts is is, a, there are really good -- it's part of public administration. we should think about election administration in that way. and that is a little bit like hygiene class. but they were also saying that states are hungry for this. there's a desire to improve the professionalism. there is a great up-sweep of enthusiasm for thoseho are tasked to do this, sometimes tasked by very bipartisan, politically secretaried nonexperts to do things properly. they're saying they think they will be embrace, practical embrace of this in the next election. >> do they give any suggestion as to how you make it possible for people to be sure in 30 minutes? is there a cost side to this that they addressed? >> yes. so the cost part of it came up with the idea that most of us are used to voting with
machines. the machines are antiquated. takes an enormous amount of resources -- >> when you say machines, old-fashion machine where you throw a switch? >> touch screen because in jurisdictions it varies, right. in my jurisdiction you can use a touch screen or punch card paper ballot, right? so what they're saying is that across the country, they didn't want to tell people what to adopt but they know this will be an enormous research issue. the other thing about the 30 minutes that was interesting is that there are some very practical tools now, if you can figure out how long it's going to take you to do any task now electronically, there are calculators, putting them out for free. three versions on the website. they want states and jurisdictions to pick them up. you can figure out how many vegster voters, how many early voted, how many are likely to participate in the midterms or presidential election, and you can start to think about how many poll workers you're going to need. that's a resource issue. so they can do it. gwen: thank you, alexis.
secretary of state john kerry is up to his ears in the stickiest of wickets, trying to promote peace among parties who cannot even agree to why they're at the table. at issue in switzerland this week where warring parties gathered to talk peace is whether syrian president bashar al assad must step down. >> because of the things he's done, because of 130,000 people who had been killed, the opposition will never stop fighting while he is there. and so if your objective is to have peace, this one man must step aside in favor of peace and of his nation. you can never achieve stability until he is gone. >> it is not up to the people who have never been in syria or up to the people who have been out of syria for 30 years who don't know at all what's happening on the ground to decide how peace can be made. gwen: as of tonight, the sides
were talking but not much. what are the prospects for the talks at this point? >> i have to say, gwen, in a land of foreign policy where any kind of peace talks there may be low expectations, israeli-palestinian, iran nuclear negotiations, i have not -- i cannot remember lower expectations for peace talks than these. it wasn't even until a week ago that we knew the opposition was actually going to participate. i think there were a lot of people who believed this whole geneva 2 encounter has been doomed from the start. it's had the most difficult beginning. everything arguments about seating, about protocol, about the length of speeches. before we even get to the topic of substance, what are they arguing about, they can't agree if they will sit in the same room. >> they're living down to expectations. >> they're living down to the lowest of expectations. the real problem here is that the two sides do not agree on the goals of this conference. we have bashar al assad's side, who sees this as a conference about fighting terrorism. that's how he puts it. everyone who is against him,
they are a terrorist. he tried to frame the discussion in that way and almost tried to reach out to the west saying you don't want more al qaeda. you don't want syria to become a bastion for al qaeda like iraq was so you should be backing me. you have the opposition who are saying no, the goal of the entire conference is is to oust assad and you have the two main backers of this conference, the united states and russia can't even agree on what the purpose is, where you have russia essentially saying if assad goes, it could be worse. you have the united states, you heard john kerry saying he's got to go. and behind all of this is is a proxy war between iran on the one side helping assad and the saudis on the other side helping the rebels. so it's a very complicated situation. >> what then is the point of trying to put these warring sides together? >> i think the point is, and we heard hillary clinton say this 100 times and john kerry said it a thousand times since, that they don't see that there's a military end to this. and part of this is maybe because the united states is not willing to step up and get in there and we know that from last
fall when obama considered but ultimately did not do a military strike even after the chemical weapons attack. he was very hesitant about that. it was really interesting because in a recent interview he essentially reflected back on it and although he said he was haunted by what happened in the chemical strike, and the fact that we've got more than 130,000 people dead in three years of war, he also said he didn't think it would have made much of a difference if the u.s. had stepped in. essentially i think what the united states' position is is, you have to have peace talks because it will not end on the battlefield. assad increasingly sees in the last nine months he made a lot of advances on the battlefield and he thinks he can end it that way. but one thing that really struck me this week was syria's oddly named national reconciliation minister who came out and said not geneva 2 or 3 or even geneva 10 and we will not change our position. this is what we call in divorce court irreconcilable differences.
>> as if it wasn't contemplated enough, iran came into the picture this week and united nations had some interesting early invitations and then at the white house it was -- >> right, yeah. >> r what happened in that bobb to make it -- >> awkward! >> yes, that was a surprise invitation to the united states out of nowhere, the u.n. secretary-general issued this invitation to iran. iran appeared to accept it and came forward and said we didn't agree to preconditions and ouster of assad. very next day ban ki-moon comes back and said i hereby officially rescind -- >> the one you did not really accept. >> and the whole thing became very embarrassing. at the same time it's hard to imagine how do you get any solution if you're trying to have real peace talks if if you don't have one of the main combatants at the table? iran is is a combatant. they back hezbollah. their own forces are fight ago longside assad's forces. how do you solve the problem if they're not at the table? gwen: that's what we will wait
to see. maybe this very weekend we will see progress or maybe not. we will find out. thank you, everyone. we have to stop for now but the conversation continues online on the "washington week" webcast extra, where we will talk about the politics of gender, it's back. thank you, mike huckabee. that streams live at 8:30 eastern time, or catch it all week long at pbs.org/washingtonweek. also online, my take on the great political cartoonist herb block in advance of the hbo documentary on his life, which airs this coming monday. keep up with daily developments seven days a week on the pbs news hour including live coverage tuesday night of the president's state of the union address. and we will see you here right next week on "washington week." good night. >> corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here.
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